I have been through several Dean days. I’m talking about former Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, who is running for President in the 2004 election. Saturday a week ago I attended two Dean house parties, each of which involved conference calls of approximately an hour, with Governor Dean answering questions from groups in different cities. Then I saw Dean speak in San Francisco last Tuesday evening. His speech was an order of magnitude refined from the California Democratic convention speech you may have seen online and the crowd was yelling and cheering. Before the event there was a pretty good crowd of “Meetup” members gathered out front to greet him. There was such a feeling of energy and hope.
This last Saturday I went to a local Democratic Party event. In private discussions on the upcoming Democratic primaries, Dean seems to be the main subject. There were Kerry supporters present, but they are taking more of a pragmatic than an enthusiastic position – they’re betting that Kerry will be the nominee and they want to be “on board” early. These Kerry supporters have nothing bad to say about Dean. Most will tell you they agree with Dean more than with Kerry on issues. (The Lieberman supporters I have met appear to be well aware of where things are going, and complain about how “liberal” the primary voters are.)
Several old-time Democrat pros have told me that they haven’t seen anything like Dean in a long time. Three different individuals have said that his speech at the Cal. Dem. Convention was one of the best they have ever seen, and the way it inspired the crowd there tells them that this is a different kind of candidate. They see an energy and detect an ability to attract not just base Democrats, but to reach out to “swing voters” and even Southerners. Many mentioned a feeling that Dean will be able to draw young people back into the election process. I’m talking pragmatic jaded state-wide professionals, and you do not see this kind of enthusiasm from this crowd very often. Usually it’s pragmatic and cynical talk but this time I am hearing optimistic, enthusiastic support. This is what is special about Dean’s candidacy. Dean already has a large (20,000+) Meetup volunteer network operating nationwide because of this ability to inspire enthusiasm. Now this is almost year before the first primary, and we’re seeing this kind of energy and numbers.
I think that after you have actually seen Dean speak, you’re a believer, and this is why the numbers are growing so fast, so soon. This ability to make a personal impression through a speech is important. I was a Kerry supporter until I met Kerry, and will still support him if he gets the nomination, but I have to say that Dean is bringing out an enthusiasm in so many people I am talking to. Kerry doesn’t have an enthusiastic, inspirational, energizing style. He does have credentials and can challenge Bush on National Security as well as making an issue of Bush’s AWOL service record, and I hope he does this before the election even though Dean will be the nominee.
There is an energy around Dean’s candidacy and I think Dean has the message and personality to win the nomination and the national center, too. I haven’t seen anything like it and I’ve been around long enough to have gone to see Gene McCarthy in Detroit in 68.